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State connections to murder of journalist Hrant Dink being ignored, warns BIANET; defamation case against Dink's lawyer dismissed

(BIANET/IFEX) - There is continuing reluctance by the authorities to link the different trials in Trabzon, Samsun and Istanbul concerning the murder of journalist Hrant Dink. Senior police and gendarmerie officers are still not on trial.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecution has decided that it lacks jurisdiction in the criminal complaints filed against Trabzon's former Province Gendarmerie Commander Colonel Ali Öz and five gendarmerie officers, Istanbul's Chief of Police Celalettin Cerrah and other police officers for gross negligence in the Hrant Dink murder.

Prosecutor Selim Berna Altay has sent the file on Cerrah and the Istanbul police officers to the Sultanahmet Chief Public Prosecution office, also in Istanbul. The file on Öz and other gendarmerie officers, who have been accused of neglecting to do their duty before the murder was carried out, as well as of tampering with evidence, has been sent to the Trabzon prosecutor's office.

Lawyers for the Dink family have previously demanded that the gunman, other participants and masterminds within the state should all be tried in the main murder trial in Istanbul, at the Istanbul Fourteenth Serious Crimes Court.

However, the investigations so far have been limited to a small group of mostly young men from Pelitli, a district of Trabzon, and the state connections have been ignored.

In fact, in Trabzon only gendarmerie officer Okan Simsek and sergeant Veysel Sahin are being tried for not acting despite their foreknowledge of a murder plan.

Witness Coskun Igci, who is a gendarmerie informant and the brother-in-law of murder suspect Yasin Hayal, told the Trabzon Second Criminal Court of Peace at the hearing on 22 January 2008: "I told the (defendants) three to four months before the murder that Yasin Hayal would kill Hrant Dink. They told me they would be pursuing the case."

After listening to the statements of the two suspects, the Trabzon court will decide whether to decree lack of jurisdiction and send the file to the Istanbul Serious Crimes Court. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 20 March.

Other suspects in the murder case are currently being tried in Samsun, where suspected gunman O.S. was caught after the murder. The Samsun Fourth Penal Court is trying Metin Balta, acting chief of the Anti-Terrorism Branch, and officer Ibrahim Firat in relation to the souvenir pictures which police and gendarmerie officers took with the suspected gunman and a Turkish flag in the tea room of the Anti-Terrorism Branch. The court still has to decide whether to send the files to Istanbul for a joint trial.

Meanwhile, the third hearing in the Dink murder trial will be held on 11 February in Istanbul. With the latest addition of Coskun Igci, the number of suspects tried has risen to 19, eight of them in detention. The eight suspects in detention are O.S., Erhan Tuncel, Yasin Hayal, Zeynel Abidin Yavuz, Ersin Yolcu, Ahmet Iskender, Tuncay Uzundal and Mustafa Öztürk.

In a related development, an Istanbul court dismissed the case against Dink's lawyer, Erdal Dogan, for writing that nationalist lawyer Fuat Turgut should be tried for having threatened Dink.

After Dogan wrote an article entitled "The big brothers use the law very well" in the "Aksam" newspaper on 9 April 2007, Turgut filed a criminal complaint against him. Turgut is notorious for suing for compensation for alleged defamation.

Turgut, who was taken into custody during the ultra-nationalist Ergenekon gang investigation and later released, is the defense lawyer for one of the suspects in the Dink murder.

In the article in question, Dogan had accused Turgut of threatening Dink before his murder. Dogan had written, "When a person who should be prosecuted for targeting Dink, for threatening him and for obstructing a fair trial, then turns up as the lawyer for one of the murder suspects, this is where the law has nothing else to say."

Turgut had taken Dogan to court, demanding 5,000 YTL (approx. US$4,100) in compensation.

However, the Sariyer Second Civil Court of Peace decided on 5 February 2008 that no legal offence was committed.

The Izmir Bar Association started an investigation of Turgut after he shouted at the murdered journalist's family, "How many Armenians there are!", when the murder trial opened on 2 July 2007. However, there has been no result. Turgut has also gained notoriety for suing "Radikal" journalist Perihan Magden and "Birgün" journalist Ahmet Tulgar, demanding a total of 20,000 YTL (approx. US$16,600) in compensation.

Dogan has also been sued by Veli Kücük, the retired general who was arrested in the operation against the Ergenekon gang recently and is now in prison.

Dogan had said, "Hrant Dink became worried when Veli Kücük wanted to join the court case against him as a co-plaintiff. Kücük is not an ordinary person." Kücük has demanded 10,000 YTL (approx. US$8,200) in compensation. The case will continue at the Beyoglu First Civil Court of First Instance on 4 March.

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